Will I or won’t I: predicting our chances of disease and survival

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2010 by Danielle Tagged: , , ,

A new NHS website, aims to help patients predict their chances of surviving breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women (with about 46,000 new cases diagnosed per year in the UK).

My first reaction was horror. In spirit, I thought, is Predict a little like those all purpose roadshow scans that allow naive (and often perfectly healthy) people to determine what might be wrong with them? I realise that this has been led by a team at Cambridge University Hospital with the cooperation of a couple of cancer registries. Perhaps their heart is in the right place, right?

I still don’t like it. Survival data is, in general, not of terribly good quality. It is never really up to date- the data for Predict is based on 5,694 women treated in East Anglia from 1999-2003. The nature of following up cancer cases for 5 or 10 years means that time needs to go by. And with it, I expect that treatments evolve- for instance, personalising treatments to cancer patients is the next big thing.

The human aspect is even more disturbing- a worried, unwell woman being delivered terrible news (alone?) over the internet. One could argue that the NHS and co. are fighting the eHows and other online snake oil merchants by providing a much better source of information. People can’t be stopped from googling their diagnosis, right?

The information on Cancer Help (flagged by Predict as “one of the best and most reliable sources” of information) is not personalised and contains advice that the patient speak to their specialist for a more complete picture. Interestingly, instead of ‘survival’ they call it ‘outlook’. That sounds a bit less emotive.

Any thoughts about Predict?


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